Secret Escape to Oki Islands, Japan
The Oki Islands are a well kept secret located in the Sea of Japan with an air of ancient mystery. Formed from volcanic rock this archipelago of sixteen islands is a designated UNESCO Global Geopark due to the astounding geological heritage . Four of the sixteen islands are inhabited : Okinoshima-chō, Chibu-son, Amachō, and Nishinoshima-chō.
It’s not just the islands that are ancient either, some of their inhabitants have seen a thing or two as well. The trees are considered to be youngsters if they’re only into triple figures, with one grand Yao-sugi tree estimated to be around 2,000 years old.
With such antiquity it isn’t surprising that the Oki Islands hold a sense of beguiling mystery for those fortunate enough to discover them. Ancient tales and legends inhabit these islands, from the saga of the repentant squid who come to the bay to apologise to a deity once a year for having nipped at her fingers, to the story of the deity said to live in an 800 year old tree.
Ancient traditions and practices have a home in the Oki Islands right up until the modern day. Each of the four inhabited islands has its shrines, many of which have roots in the far distant past. On Ama (also known as Nakano-shima) you can visit the shrine of a long-dead 12th-century Emperor Go-Toba; a shrine built 700 years after the Emperor’s death. They have long memories in the Oki Islands.
The islands certainly have one thing to thank Emperor Go-Toba for; he is said to have introduced the unusual practise of bull sumo to the shrines. Exactly as it sounds , this is an entertainment that sits somewhere between bull fighting and sumo wrestling, with the bulls butting heads as they are held in the ring throughout the entire match by a ‘tsunatori’, or ‘rope holder’; a man who must really envy the tourists their medical travel insurance! Bull sumo tournaments are held at various times throughout the year.
When in the Oki Islands you might want to get on even closer terms with the local cattle and try the world famous Oki beef! These are the cattle that are often sent to Kobe to become Kobe beef for fine dining restaurants across the world. If beef isn’t to your taste, the Oki islands have fabulous seafood specialities for you to try, such as Kan Shimane zuke don (marinated raw squid on rice) or local oysters.
Much of the pleasure of the Oki Islands is to be found in the geology, and touring around the islands by bicycle is a popular way to see as much as possible . Bicycles are readily available to hire at the tourism offices near the ports on the three larger islands. To stay even closer to nature you can even camp on the beaches on all of the inhabited islands, and if that doesn’t appeal you can always spend a restful day off from sight-seeing simply swimming and sunbathing.